20 albatrosses have returned

As of yesterday, I had seen 20 albatrosses in Princeville.

The great majority were in my neighborhood:  13.  Six are on the golf course, I saw another one just once in another residential neighborhood where they nest.

It always starts with a trickle, then the numbers seem to increase exponentially.  Some of them disappear periodically, perhaps to grab a bite to eat.  Or they may have met up with their mates already.  Unless an observer can watch them every minute of the day, it is very likely that nesters could have met up, mated, and left on their “pre-egg laying exodus,” which generally takes about 10 days.  When they return, the egg is laid and incubation begins.

It looks like we will have a good year!

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Three more come home

Two more from my neighborhood returned:

Mr. Clackypants

  • He was banded as an adult in 1989, like Joseph, and he is at least 31 years old.
  • He had a nest in the 1989-1990 season with an unknown mate, but it was unsuccessful.
  • He and Mrs. Clackypants were rebanded in 2004.
  • They have raised 6 chicks since 2004.
  • They have had bad eggs for the last 3 years.

PurpleO324

  • Originally banded as a chick in 1989 on Whale-Skate Island on French Frigate Shoals in Northwest Hawaiian Islands.  That island has been totally submerged under the rising sea level.
  • Rebanded on Oahu in 2008.
  • Raised 4 chicks with her mate, K233, at end of Keoniana Road.
  • Last season, her mate raised a chick with another female.  PurpleO324 also had a chick but he died.  K233 would not help her with the chick.
  • She is now sitting not far from where K233 successfully raised his chick last season.  His new mate, KP465, is another of Joseph’s children.  She is also the grandmother of Joseph’s great-grandchick.

There is one albatross from another residential neighborhood:

KP515, Bad Mama’s mate.

  • 515 is a good parent, but most years his mate, “Bad Mama,” abandons their egg.
  • If I could, I would match him up with a nearby female who raised her chick single-handed for most of last season, after her mate failed to return during incubation.  This is highly unusual, chicks with one parent usually die of dehydration/malnutrition/exposure.

It may surprise everyone to know that these birds never listen to my advice.  It is a miracle that Joseph and Elaine got together, and I take no credit.

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Four and five….

All of the 5 albatrosses that have returned to Princeville so far are near my house.  The morning of November 12th, I saw the last two.

Gator, age 11, is one of Joseph’s sons.  He nests in the same yard where he hatched.  He has raised 2 chicks with his mate.

KP497 was banded as an adult in January of 2004.  He has raised 6 chicks with his mate since then.  They always nest in the same yard.

 

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Larry’s back in town

The third albatross to return to Princeville is Larry, K229.  Larry was named after a Sears repairman.  When I became the data collector here, I decided that homeowners would get to name the chicks that shared their lawns with them.  My neighbors, Roger and C, were seeing the Sears repairman more than  anyone else at the time, so Larry got his name.

Larry

Larry is a local boy, his mothers always nest in my neighborhood.  They periodically have a fertile egg; Larry was one of them.  He hatched in 2007.  He met a local girl, Dora, in 2013.  The following two years their nesting efforts were not successful.  But in the 2015-2016 season, they had Hakari.

Last season, unfortunately, Larry abandoned their egg when it was about 4 weeks old.  Four days later Dora came back and incubated it.  Then she abandoned it for a few days.  She sat on it for a couple of days, then Larry came back and they left the egg for good.  I do not know why Larry abandoned the egg in the first place.  It is not uncommon for a first-time nester to leave the egg; it is less likely that an albatross who has already raised a chick does that.

I will be looking for Dora to join Larry soon.  They are both very young, they have many years of chick rearing ahead of them.  It is my good fortune that they have chosen to raise their chicks about a block away from my house.

When one of my neighbors was first looking for a house here he saw an albatross nesting in the yard of the vacant house across the street from me.  The deal was sealed.  “That’s the one!” he said.  It says a lot about my neighborhood, and even more about my neighbors.

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Princeville patriarch returns

I am always so relieved when Joseph, Princeville’s great-grandfather, comes back to Kauai.

Joseph

He has an interesting history.

Joseph was originally banded as an adult at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, the navy base on Kauai, on March 3, 1989.  The earliest we have had chicks come back to land as adults is at the age of 3, so he was at least 3 years old, which would make him 31 or older today.  He was rebanded with KP505 in 2004.

In 1992, he had a chick, KP465, with an unknown female.  KP465 has raised 7 chicks since the 2005-2006 season, including the father of Phoenix, Joseph’s great-grandchick.

He then raised 3 chicks with KP461:

  • In 2003-2004 they raised KP617, Mystery, who now resides on Midway.
  • In 2004-2005 they raised KP889, Dora, who raised a chick with K229, Larry, a couple of years ago.
  • In 2005-2006 they raised Gator, who helped his mate raise two chicks.

KP461 did not return in the 2006-2007 season, so Joseph found a new mate.

Joseph and KP729 had two chicks.

  • In 2007-2008, their chick died while hatching,
  • In 2008-2009, Obama, K621, fledged successfully, but has not been seen in Princeville since.

I was at Foodland one day in 2009 when my neighbor and fellow albatross observer, Bob Waid, called across to me, “Hey, Cathy, is Obama still here?”

“Yes.  I’m beginning to think he’ll NEVER leave!”

A hush fell over the Foodland crowd.

Joseph and KP729 did not nest in the 2009-2010 season and Joseph began spending a lot of time with KP792.  Some helpful albatross fans suggested that Joseph had dyslexia, and just mixed their band numbers up.

Joseph and K792 had 2 chicks.

  • In 2010-2011 K848, Coconut, hatched in a nest under a coconut palm.
  • In 2012-2013, they raised Lanea, A496.

KP792 did not return in the 2013-2014 season.  Joseph made a simple nest in the bushes he prefers.  Various albatrosses came by and did little displays with him in the nest.  It seemed to this observer that he was auditioning females to be his new mate.  His former mate, KP729 came by, and he chased her away.

Joseph started spending quality time with K065.

Joseph and K065 had 2 chicks.

  • in 2014-2015, they raised Joy, H090.
  • In 2015-2016, they had Peace, H224.

K065 did not return to Princeville during the 2016-2017 season.

During that season, he met Elaine, who had raised 8 chicks with her previous mate.  Elaine and her mate nested year after year at Dragon House, down the street from Joseph’s favorite yard.  Elaine’s mate had disappeared during the 2015-2016 season, leaving Elaine to incubate their egg from December 27th until the chick hatched on February 5th.  The little chick died shortly after hatching.

If I ran a dating service for albatrosses, Elaine is the one I would have picked for Joseph, and Joseph is the one I would have picked for Elaine.  They both take parenting very seriously, and both lost their mates.  When one member of a couple that has a pattern of nesting together in the same area year after year does not return, I assume that individual has died.  They are so programmed to return to each other, either to nest or to renew their bond so they can nest the following year.

When I see Elaine, I will post that information for all of the Joseph and Dragon House fans out there.  I know the readers of this blog get attached to particular albatrosses, and I am happy to encourage their devotion.

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First albatross sighting

I have been checking the usual places for albatrosses for the last few days.  The first one arrived at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on November 9th, which is a bit later than usual.  Princeville always has a first spotting after the lighthouse, and this year I saw my premiere albatross on November 1oth.

Nesters usually precede all of the others;  they return to agreed upon meeting places, then wait for the mates to arrive.  Sometimes a few of the older non-nesters come in early, also.  While walking my dog I caught a glimpse of a large bird flying over my neighbors’ house, and as I walked in that direction, Bob told me that an albatross had landed.  He thought it might be one of his birds, perhaps Mr. Clackypants, but when we saw the albatross walking at a brisk pace towards the street, we both knew this one had another destination in mind.

She walked quickly across the road, through another neighbor’s yard, and ended up in the backyard voted “most popular” by several generations of albatrosses.  She sat down and the waiting began.

Mystery Bird

Mystery Bird

I love to be able to tell stories about the first bird back.  After 12 years of observing them almost every day they are in Princeville, I know these birds as well as I know my old friends.  I have anecdotes to share about most of them.  Unfortunately, this one is unbanded.

Every year I keep a record of who was doing what on which day.  I vaguely remembered that one of my local banded birds was spending quality time with an unbanded bird, so I checked him out in my Excel file.  Yes!  If I made a circle around Unbanded with a radius of 10 feet, that would be the area where I saw these two sitting close together.  K232 is 10 year old, and hatched during a year DNA testing was done to determine the sexes of the Kauai albatrosses.  It was part of a project organized by Lindsay Young, who has been studying the Laysan albatrosses in Hawaii longer than anyone and probably holds the record for the number of scientific articles about them.  She was studying the female/female couples, which make up about 30% of all nesters.  We do not have any male/male couples, since an egg is the minimum requirement for nesting.  K232 is a male, which makes Unbanded a female.

The spot they spent all their time in last season is not far from where K232 spent his chickhood.  His parents always nested in that yard or next door.  Some albatrosses are faithful to a small area, others move around more.  If K232 takes after his parents, he will not go very far from the spot where Unbanded is comfortably resting.  This yard is beginning to look like Midway.

Of course, I could be wrong about this unbanded bird.  They have fooled me plenty of times before, and I do not begrudge them their right to put one over on me again.  It is part of the fun of being an albatross observer.*

 

*Please remind me that I said that the next time I am climbing a cliff after a fledgling.

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Dalton – part 2

Friday and Saturday were more of the same for Dalton: some flapping, moving from safe spot to safe spot.  He was definitely restless, but he never made any move to walk out to the nearby ocean bluff  to fledge.  The weather report was predicting strong wind on Sunday, but similar reports had made some previous days seem like they might be the ones.

Just as we were getting ready for Sunday to be another long day spent keeping an eye on Dalton’s movements, he surprised us.  He walked out of his yard and headed in the direction of the ocean.  I always tell people who live on the golf course, when you see an albatross chick walking down the fairway towards the ocean like he knows what he’s doing, follow him if you want to see him fledge.  We almost lost sight of him, he was walking so fast, but eventually we saw him heading in the right direction, feeling the ocean breeze in his face, smelling the new, watery world that lay before him.

 

He was out on the bluff for just a few minutes before he ran, flapping, until he was lifted up into the air.  It looked like a perfect takeoff, until….

 

The area he was flying over borders a path to a local beach.  One albatross chick had already been rescued from near the top of a cliff down below, and it looked like that was where Dalton was headed.  Fortunately, two neighbors volunteered to help look for him.  Carl and I went and changed our shoes, Matt brought his yellow Lab home, but kept his flip-flops on.

The three of us spent some down below trying to figure out where Dalton would have landed.  It is difficult to picture from down there.  Carl and Matt looked all over the place, and I mostly stood in the general area where I thought Dalton might have ended up and listened for any sound.  Once when a chick ended up on top of a cliff I heard him thrashing around in the vegetation.  In retrospect, it appears that Dalton was probably quietly walking along the top of the bluff, hidden from anyone down below.

Instead of wasting time going over the same places down below the fledging spot, we all walked back up and I went to get my camcorder so we could see exactly where he went down.  Matt thought if he went back to a particular point and held a pole up there the rest of us could judge Dalton’s location, using the film I had taken of the aborted take off.  Then Carl decided to try climbing down to where we saw the bird descend.

I was just standing at the top of the bluff, scanning the area.  Suddenly I saw something in the grass-covered bluff down below to the right.  It was the top of a feathered head, slowly moving through the thick, snarled grass, up the uneven terrain.  Dalton was not having an easy time climbing through weeds that were mostly taller than he was.

I was very lucky that the daughter of the property owner was there to guide me by calling out where I should walk to get to Dalton.  The bluff was eroded, with crests and dips, and the uneven surface and tall vegetation made it difficult to walk through in hiking sandals.  I did finally manage to get down to Dalton, who was none too happy to see me.  I lifted him up and he let me know what he thought of that by nipping at my arms.  I put him down, thinking I could get him to walk up and follow him to help when he fell back.  But it was very difficult for both of us.  I picked him up again because he was having an even more difficult time than I was trying to climb up the bluff.

Then Carl and Matt climbed up the hill behind me.  Carl had the towel I had brought for carrying Dalton, so I wrapped it around him.  Carl helped keep me from falling backwards, and it was definitely slow going.  How many times have I said it, “I’m too old to be doing this!”  When we reached a big dip in the bluff Carl kindly took Dalton from me and continued the climb up.  When my grandmother was my age she wore house dresses and sensible shoes.  And she never once picked up an albatross.

At the top of the bluff, Carl set Dalton down.  There were two choices to select from.  If Dalton had worn himself out, he would need to rest to recover his strength.  I have seen that happen through the years, the chicks who spent the night above the bluff or near their safe spots, then regained their strength and took off the next morning.

On the other hand, the wind suddenly picked up; it was the strongest we had seen for several days.  If he missed it, he might have to wait for some days.  He had been fed recently, he was very agitated, and the weather was perfect.  He did not sit down to rest, he was standing and facing the ocean.  Suddenly he was off, borne aloft over the ocean bluff.  He dipped down a bit and then flew into the wind, rising up out over the ocean, flying far out to sea.  All the people watching were cheering and laughing, it was a huge relief for everyone to see this albatross finally leave.

Some chicks make fledging seem effortless.

Some just disappear with nobody to see if they safely made it to the ocean.

Some, like Dalton, make us realize that fledging is not as easy for some as it is for others.  Those are the ones we remember the most.  Those are the ones we will be looking especially hard for in the years to come, and when they return we will know that anything we did to help them was worth every minute.

I pray that I will never be too old to help an albatross, or any other creature that has landed on a cliff and needs some gentle guidance to find safety in this big, scary world.

 

 

 

 

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